Women are expected to be obedient and submissive”
Why is VAWG so pervasive? Why is it so challenging to eliminate?
First, it is important to remember that VAWG was not recognised as a violation of women’s human rights until 1993 – 20 years ago. Other women’s rights – such as the right to vote, the right to an education, the right to health care – have been recognised since the 1970s. VAWG as a women’s rights issue is, in many ways, “new”.
Working to eliminate violence against women and girls has been exceptionally challenging for many reasons:
- Family violence almost exclusively occurs in the private spheres, which are often difficult for the State and/or support mechanisms to reach. In some countries, culture and society object to government intervention in the home. Overcoming these norms is a challenge in and of itself, even before addressing the complexities of domestic violence incidences.
- Gender-based violence is deeply rooted in historical inequalities and power imbalances – meaningful and lasting elimination means changing both societal structures and individual behaviours. Behaviour change which is generally seen to solely benefit others is very difficult to achieve (i.e. changing the attitudes and actions of male perpetrators who may see no personal benefit). Sending the key message that eliminating violence against women and girls is important to all of society is challenging.
- While the ultimate goal is of course prevention of violence, access to justice for victim/survivors is notoriously lacking. Entire criminal justice systems need to be overhauled and improved to meaningfully deter potential perpetrators. Recent research shows that criminal justice systems in themselves are gender biased towards men, making a difficult situation even more traumatic for women.
- Violence, particularly sexual violence, is incredibly sensitive and personal – many women are not in a position to report the crime or seek help. Reporting in many circumstances puts women at heightened risk, yet without reporting, women have little access to support services and the true extent of incidents is masked.
- Violence begets violence – a significant number of perpetrators were themselves victims of some form of violence (physical or structural) or witnessed violence as a child. Breaking the cycle is crucial but challenging.